The Shaking

Seismic terror is about to strike...

Maverick geologist Brian McLean was ridiculed when he warned London and south east England were at imminent risk of suffering a major earthquake. But when the unthinkable happens buildings collapse, power grids crash, transport is gridlocked, and high-tech life grinds to a shuddering halt.

In the stunned aftermath courier Ryan Buckland journeys through a shattered city to be reunited with his family, Deputy Prime Minister Stuart Pullman sees the emergency as his chance to seize power, while nuclear engineer Alan Carter desperately tries to avert a far greater catastrophe. If he fails, destructive aftershocks will be the least of our problems...

A homage to penny dreadful natural disaster potboilers, The Shaking will rock you to your very core!

A 103,000 word novel. Rated PG 16.

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26. Chapter Twenty Six

Connect24 studios. 14.58.

Ian May is engaged in a phone conversation with the ConnectMedia group chairman, Euan Rees.

"...and given what had just happened I agreed with James Patterson it would be appropriate to go off-air for a while. A good thing too as twenty minutes later the police arrived... Yes, I've never seen them move that quickly either; especially with the roads the way they are, but with an incident so visible they must have decided it was a priority.

...They arrested Dominic Paige at once and whisked him away but no, there's no way we could have continued to broadcast while they were seizing the video as evidence as well as taking statements under caution from everyone... Without proper legal advice to hand that's what I told them and I'm sure that will be borne out by the records. I made the point I objected to the way he was progressing the story and the way he was pushing those two... ...Agreed; and hopefully with some specialist lawyers advising us we can lay it all on his shoulders as an wayward employee who lost all sense of proportion and flouted the established proceedures.

...Yes we could resume broadcasting right away but I thought it best to not to just yet; paying due respects and all that. The studio needed cleaning up anyway and there's no way James or Anna could have been expected to continue... She'll be all right as far as I can tell though she's spent a long time crying and puking her guts up in the toilets. She and Kelly got along well. I've promised she'll get any support or counseling she needs. Our on-call doctor has suggested she has tranquillisers in the meantime. James is shocked as well of course, but I think he coped with the situation admirably and with great professionalism... In my opinion they both needed at least a week's paid leave and then see where we go from there... No, although we're short-staffed it'd be unreasonable to expect them to carry on under those circumstances. Susan Bradley and Carol Jones have managed to get in; they're ready to anchor the show once we go live again and have promised to hold the fort until more help arrives. When they're not on air they'll be crashing out in one of the Green Rooms or offices.

...As for Gail Burton, the last I heard she was going to abandon her van and was on her way by foot with the crew to a Rest Centre rumoured being set up in one of the royal parks. I told her not to; said she should find somewhere safe if she can to crash out in and recharge her gear if at all possible but you know what she's like, been on the go since yesterday evening; first trying but failing to run down Brian McLean, then back to the royal 'flu vigil, and the Pippa Slater affair before all this blew up. I've told her to be careful; some parts of London are distinctly unsafe at the moment, especially in Hyde Park where I'm told thirsty people are drinking out of the Serpentine for Christ's sake, but she won't listen...

...We're coping as well as can be expected. We should be all right for emergency power for the next day or so, same with food and water. After that is anyone's guess...

... But in that case wouldn't it be a better idea to run the story from Edinburgh as it is closer? Especially since the Scots have rejected the State of Emergency... I can understand your reasoning, but New York or even elsewhere in Europe is way too far away from the action... So why not wait until then and switch things there only as a last resort? I mean we'll be the main source for the story anyway... No, I don't think that's going to be possible. Yes, outside London and the Home Counties it's not so bad, but where would you find alternative premises for us? And even moving around is difficult...

Yes I heard about that, wasn't sure it was official policy yet, but in my opinion it's going to be unworkable; they'll need to set up displaced persons' camps all around the capital and people are bound to sneak through the cordon. They'll have enough on their hands as it is inside the M25... We're not getting much news from some of those areas, but from what we can gather it's bad and getting worse... Yes, that's why I'll be staying here for the time being.

...I appreciate the thought, but you just can't move. It's shank's pony for the time being and probably will be for a quite a while into the future at least. In our inimitable British style we'll Keep Calm and Carry On until we can't anymore.

...So you'll be switching to New York in a hour's time then? Yes, I suppose we could do what we can to add to it from here, but it won't be easy... No it's more the coordination and if the police were so quick to get here before than they'll be around again in a flash if the government objects to what we're reporting; we'll be off the air for good then.

...There's one favour I'd like to ask. As a mark of respect one of our artists produced a black screen border incorporating the photos of Kelly and Ethan; we were going to use it when we went back on air. Could you...? Yes, I think around 24 hours would be appropriate. Oh thank you! That would mean a lot to us. I'll send it over to you right away!

...You must be getting better images than we are. Ah, they're coming through now! Oh, that does look nasty! Not quite the Second Great Fire of London just yet but I'll be paying close attention to it. Should it begin to spread in this direction we'll close down completely and evacuate as far as we're able. Of course we'll keep you informed.

...Indeed, we'll all have a lot to do in the weeks and months ahead. And we'll be looking forward to the time when C24-UK can be restarted. Here's hoping it will be soon. Thank you; and the best of luck to you as well. 'Bye!"

As Rees terminated the connection, the import of what he had just announced began to sink into Ian May. So this is what the end of the world feels like, he thought. The lines from the Keats poem about the centre no longer holding and tumbling within a widening gyre came to mind. The greatest story of his career was unfolding all around him, yet he had been effectively cut out of the loop; relegated to being a mere bystander.

 

PINDAR. 15.09.

The cabinet had paused for an hour's rest as had been prearranged in the Standard Contingency Planning Guidelines, though no one expected to catch a few winks' sleep, certainly not after the Scottish Parliament's narrow vote supporting their government's rejection of the State of Emergency. The two antagonistic factions had left their junior staffs in temporary charge of the situation, before moving to separate offices to snack and consider this political bombshell. The collective morale of the group containing Stuart Pullman and Christopher Parsons along with their cohorts resembled that of a boxer being punched out on points with excruciating slowness during a long drawn out bout.

"I hate to say it Stuart, but I think we're losing this one." Parsons looked and sounded morose.

"We're not out of it yet." Pullman replied; but his former self-confidence was beginning to ebb as well. "Just because the bloody Jocks chose this of all moments to expose themselves for the traitors they are doesn't mean we were wrong to invoke all the powers available granted to us the Civil Contingencies Act. No reasonable person could deny a national disaster requires a nationwide response, well no-one apart from that lily-livered fool Rampling and the Soft Faction. "I am confident we can reach an amicable consensus regarding the issues we disagree on... my arse!" Stuart spat the Prime Minister's conciliatory words out as if they were acid in his mouth. "If I'd had my way, all of the Scottish parliament would be in preventative detention by now!" he continued.

"I'm surprised, not to say a little disappointed that you didn't push harder for that sort of action to be taken in the previous cabinet session." interrupted Parsons.

"Well you saw it for yourself." retorted Stuart. "They weren't going to buy it; especially as it was I who proposed extending the State of Emergency which they mistakenly think prompted the Scots' revolt. No it's reconciliation all round and sorry it was just a bit of overexuberance on our part; just a reserve technical measure to ensure we had the powers we needed if we had to use them, which of course we don't intend to... Christ it was sickening to watch them falling over each other to distance themselves from it while The Right Honourable Anthony Charles Gerald Rampling looked on smiling. I couldn't tell if Ian Campbell's streaming tears were a symptom of his Mexican swine 'flu or those of joy: I hope he doesn't spread what he's got to me, because a debilitating illness is the last thing I need, especially now!" Parsons made a sympathetic noise.

"Honestly." Pullman started again." A man that sick shouldn't be making decisions of such magnitude; he should have temporarily stood aside in favour of his deputy. Here we are, grappling with an unexpected crisis, the economy wobbling on a financial tightrope, and the Chancellor resembles an extra from a zombie film..."

"Very succinctly put." said Parsons. "But what are we going to do about?"

"I'm not sure as yet, but don't you even think of wavering on me-"

"The thought hadn't crossed my mind!"

"Good: Because despite appearances this is far from over."

Even as he spoke the words the vague outline if a plan coalesced in Stuart's imagination. It was as audacious as it was illegal, but if it worked he would be certain to become Prime Minister. "I'm going topside to check on my office and clear my head for a while." he announced. "I'll see you again when the cabinet reconvenes."

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